For the second week of NO: INTERMISSION the action takes a turn towards the absurd from a whacky turnstile of gay dates to a runaway bride to a war-torn world decorated in florals. In both Lipstick and Girl Shut Your Mouth, the terms of the characters’ lives are unclear with heartwarming and deadly consequences respectively.
We’ve all been there; a new person enters your life and it’s all second-guessing and assumptions. Anna (Phoebe Atkinson) has one of these new women (Gia Cohen) coming over for dinner but is it a date? How can she tell? Add to the chaos her best friend Mal (Kevin T S Vun), his string of booty calls (Rowan Brunt), his mother (Susan Ling Young), an ill-timed visit from the landlord (Max Belmonte), and, of course, the ex-girlfriend (Jordana Wegman) fleeing her wedding to rekindle their lost love and you have Lane Stanley’s gay farce Lipstick.
The script has all the good bits of a farce including physical comedy, surprises lurking behind closed doors, and unexpected visitors but with some added absurd elements like an unexplained roaring from a beast in the bedroom. While there was a lot to laugh at, the script did feel stretched to its limit with sex toy gags and gay stereotypes, such that the actually story of Anna trying to have a “date” felt too flimsy to hold the entire production together.
Direction from Laura Heuston seemed to struggle with the over-abundance of the script by turning most lines into a punchline and leaving no breathing room for earnestness until the final super coincidental scene. But, that being said, there were some solid comedic performances from the cast. Atkinson was a stand-out for her physicality and timing, adding much needed consistency as the central character. And, despite her side role, Ling Young was a strong presence as a domineering tourist mum.
For the following production, the tone takes a turn towards satire with a dark new take on the refugee crisis from Gita Bezard. Four average teen girls spend their days studying, hanging around, and talking about boys and clothes. Except these girls also live in a war zone so, despite their frilly floral dresses and glitter backpacks, their future is bleak. When Katie (Kobi Taylor-Forder) gets shot and survives, suddenly she has an escape, a temptation the other girls can’t resist.
Bezard’s script is clever for what it leaves unsaid. The exact circumstances of the girls’ lives are unclear but they regularly attend funerals, they aren’t allowed adequate schooling, and they have a strict curfew. Katie’s refugee status is also unspoken with the girls instead imaging a new wonderful life full of luxury and pleasure, far, far away from this place. This transparent rendering of war-torn places without specifics like politics, religion, or national interests allows the script to map easily onto different experiences but, perhaps more sinisterly, it allows the audience to see past well-worn prejudice or wilful ignorance. These girls aren’t Palestinian or Syrian, they’re not Muslim, they’re “just like us”, the typical white Australian theatre audience, and that makes their story much more difficult to dismiss.
Carly Fisher’s direction is strong after a successful run of this production at Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2020. The pacing is unpredictable, changing tone on a dime and leaving the audience continually unsettled. The lighting design from Mark Bell is evocative with harsh cuts, injected blues and reds, and spots all combined to keep the momentum building. James Burchett’s set design is also evocative of the play’s troubling juxtapositions with stacked milk crates backgrounding a derelict playground.
The performances were complex and compelling for the way the girls’ group dynamics shifted over the course of their plan. Taylor-Forder’s Katie was bold and commanding but wavered in the face of Grace (Alex Gonzalez) and Mia’s (Kaylee Ashton) determination. Ashton’s steely reserve was particularly chilling in response to violence. Antonia Korn as the scapegoat Darcy was a counter-voice of reason and patience that provided a worthy opponent to Katie’s berating. As an ensemble, the performance was clean and professional with a solid sense of the script’s nuance and allusions.
If NO: INTERMISSION Week 1 was drama, Week 2 was all comedy, though not as you’d necessarily expect. For those who like in-jokes and innuendo or those who like their humour dark, Lipstick and Girl Shut Your Mouth provides something for both.
Lipstick and Girl Shut Your Mouth ran at Chippen St Theatre from March 24th – 27th as part of NO: INTERMISSION
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